Women working together to get things done

I will say it from the start: I think every day should be International Women’s Day in that we should celebrate women every day. All the women.

The women I am privileged to know in real life and through social media are a force of positive change, delicious humour and sisterly solidarity, writes guest blogger Emma Chesworth, pictured above.

When, after the EU referendum result, we saw a rise in incidents of hate crime across the country, it was a female friend who decided to take action here on Teesside.

A stall was erected in Stockton Town Centre and a group of us handed out flowers to passers-by along with postcards asking people to write positive messages to show we welcomed everyone to our town. A simple step but a positive step.

A Peace Wall, again in Stockton, had a similar theme. A group of women recently organised a peaceful chalk bombing session and shoppers and visitors were asked to chalk their messages of hope on the wall. So many people, young and old, added their words.

As we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March, it seems a perfect time to highlight just some of the work, activism and initiatives women are carrying out here on Teesside.

The focus for International Women’s Day is Teesside University which is hosting a free one day conference on Saturday, 4 March.

A packed itinerary includes keynote speeches, stalls, exhibitions and song and dance performances. Be Bold for Change is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day and from 9.30am on 4 March, Teesside University you can hear from women in business, politics, culture and education.

Speakers include Heidi Mottram, CEO of Northumbrian Water; Sue Jeffrey, Tees Valley Mayoral candidate; Sade Sangowawa, Managing Director of Cultures Community Interest Company; Joanna Wake, MD of Raw Digital Training and Angela Lockwood, CEO of North Star Housing.

As part of the International Women’s Day celebrations, Middlesbrough Central Library will live stream Rebels in the Archives from the British Library, London at 7pm on Wednesday, 8 March. (Tickets are free but must be booked).

Stories of sexism and sisterhood and the power and potential of archiving feminist movements will be the topic of conversation between feminists Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers. They will discuss their engagement with archives of activism as well as politics, representation and preservation. (Book a place on 01642 -729002). Women often make their voices heard through the mediums of poetry and song – protest songs, anthems and poems have always been part of the feminist movement.

United Voices is a free community choir for women. They meet each Friday (term time) at Arc in Stockton from 9.45-10.45am. The choir particularly welcomes women seeking sanctuary in the area and those who have caring responsibilities.

Choir founder, Charlotte Hall said: “It is a real community choir. I have been thrilled with the response so far. Singing really does make you feel good. I hope lots of women will be inspired to come along – everyone will be made to feel welcome. It is wonderful to celebrate how beautifully diverse Teesside is.”

All singing abilities are welcome and United Voices is going from strength to strength having performed at community events across Teesside. Catch them at 11.30am at Teesside University at the International Women’s Day event. For details visit United Voices.

The TWP, previously known as the Tees Women Poets, are relaunching to coincide with International Women’s Day. The TWP is Apples and Snakes women’s collective in Teesside. Apples and Snakes is the country’s leading organisation for spoken word and performance poetry.

Members of the TWP come from all backgrounds and new members are always welcome. The new programme includes free monthly writing workshops as well as free monthly performance clubs.

Both take place at ARC in Stockton. The writing group starts on Tuesday, 4 April and is every first Tuesday from 6-8pm. The TWP performance club starts on Saturday 18 March and is every third Saturday from 2-4pm.

If crafting is your thing the Peace Blanket group will satisfy your sewing cravings while helping to create a unique blanket. The women’s group meets in Stockton and everyone creates their own patch which will make up a large blanket. Find them on Facebook for details of meetings.

And if you are looking to try a new sport or improve your fitness, This Girl Can is a national campaign launched by Sport England. Here on Teesside, Tees Valley Sport in partnership with Middlesbrough Council, has launched Boro Girls Can. The project focusses on getting women active and help them achieve their goals. Sports and activities offered include running, netball, yoga, roller-blading, fencing, cycling and exercise classes.

The female experience of Teesside’s industrial decline between 1970 and 1990 is the subject is an oral history project. Rebecca Saunders a PHD student at Teesside University is exploring and recording the experiences of Teesside women during this period. If you lived in the Teesside region between 1970 and 1990 and worked in the steel, chemical or shipbuilding industries or had relatives who did, you can add your voice. Contact Rebecca on Twitter @RSaunders111 or email Rebecca.saunders@tees.ac.uk

Soroptimist International of Middlesbrough is a group of women from all walks of life and of all ages. They work together to awareness raise, lobby and fundraise. Over recent years they have supported action on violence against women and girls and all forms of trafficking. They have particularly supported Barnardo’s Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Streets. They meet on the third Thursday of the month at 6.30pm at Barnado’s Bridgeway, Allendale Road, Ormesby, Middlesbrough.

Activism among women is incredibly effective. National campaigns can gain huge support when they are taken to heart by local or regional groups. This is the case with WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) which is campaigning to fight the changes to the State Pension Law which affects women born in the 1950s. They are campaigning for a fair transition as the 1995 Conservative Government’s Pension Act included plans to increase women’s SPA (State Pension Age) to 65, the same as men’s. WASPI agrees with equalisation, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented and no time to make alternative plans. Middlesbrough WASPI is an active group who meet every month and campaign locally.

If you would like to volunteer with organisations supporting women and girls in the area you can find out about Eva’s Women’s Aid who provide a range of free and confidential specialist services for women and children who have been affected by any form of domestic and or sexual abuse.

They are based on the High Street in Redcar and offer services such as supported housing, independent domestic violence advocates, drop-in sessions, independent sexual violence advocates and information and guidance. Volunteers are important to the organisation and you can email info@eva.orh.uk for details.

This is just a snapshot of some of the great events, groups and campaigns going on in the area. Women working together to get things done.

In sisterhood – for International Women’s Day and every day.

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